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Psycasm is the exploration of the world psychological. Every day phenomenon explained and manipulated to one's own advantage. Written by a slightly overambitious undergrad, Psycasm aims at exploring a whole range of social and cognitive processes in order to best understand how our minds, and those mechanisms that drive them, work.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Friday, February 11, 2011


Here's where I heard about this paper first... and a pretty weak treatment at that.


In a previous post I dared suggest* that women watched porn. Several people warned me of the imminent troll-storm, and true to their predictions, I was inundated with claims that I was a misogynist, supporting 'shoddy' science, and endorsing the male status-quo. All of which was rubbish, and based on the fact that 'women' and 'porn' appeared in the same sentence. Oh no, women are sexual beings? Think of the children!**. The lead author of the paper I cited showed up and made a few comments. The trolls fled. ...Then I won an award for the post.

And so here I am to make another inflammatory statement. Well, two, in fact. First, I think Evolutionary Psychology offers a valid paradigm to explore human behaviour and cognition. And so I am steeled for the exclamations of 'just so stories' and the accusations of 'quackery'. Second, apparently women have sex, some even enjoy it, so much so that they might even masturbate for self-enjoyment, and, lo, some are deceptive during sex.

I can see the response now. Parents ushering the children indoors, angry poorly-articulated comments being constructed accusing me of being sexist without any coherent argument, and (some) women wondering why I hate them so.

Of course, I do not hate women, and any suggestion that I do is an ad hominem attack. Furthermore, none of that is even suggested by the following. But here I am to light a fire, and to it I will draw a peculiar breed of trolls.

Here's the long and short of it: Brewer and Hendrie (2010) are arguing that female vocalisations during sex (that is, moaning, groaning and praising) are not so much a response to the female's pleasure, but are, in fact, a method (honest or otherwise) or manipulating the man's timing of ejaculation.

Now I've read their paper. Their methods and conclusions appear sound. However, it is exploratory, hypothesis-driven research, not confirmatory. Additionally, they make no claims to ultimate evolutionary causes (that is, x evolved for purpose y).

Now at this point, unless you're excessively puritanical, you shouldn't have too many problems with this paper. Women vocalize, and it's typically for reasons other than to express their own explicit orgasm. The logical question to then ask is 'So what? Why is this interesting, and what makes this relevant to evolutionary psychology?'. Well, it may lend support to the assertion (and growing body of comparative, physiological and psychological evidence) that homo sapiens were not dyadic in the past, but may have been polyamorous.

How? First, it is argued by Brewer and Hendrie (2010) that women may vocalize in order to end the sexual act for a number of reasons, some of which include discomfort, pain, boredom, fatigue and convenience. Secondly, (here it comes) from an evolutionary perspective, women may be attempting to advertise and/or secure future sexual partners in order to ensure uncertain paternity, a greater chance of off-spring survival, or recruit the most attractive set of genes. Yet, I still haven't answered the 'How' question. First we must ask Why does a woman (or a man, for the matter) vocalize during sex at all? Sure, there might be a host of valid social reasons - one might be to boost the ego of the man [92% of the women in study agreed to this statement, and 87% reported vocalizing for this very purpose] (Brewer and Hendrie, 2010), or to deceive the man that they are a competent lover (68% of women reported wanting to stay with a man even though he never helped her climax) (Brewer and Hendrie, 2010). But from an evolutionary perspective we must be mindful of a few things: First, men do not vocalize in the same manner as women. Second, comparative evidence in chimps suggests that vocalizations are for attracting more males to a sexual encounter (in order to have more sex), which is further supported by the fact that when chimps are engaging in down-strata copulation (that is, if the women is having sex with someone she 'shouldn't' be having sex with) she still makes chimpanzee sex-faces, but fails to make the vocalizations.

So here we have a set of human women (n = 71) who report significantly less orgasms during vaginal sex than during self-masturbation, or partnered masturbation (digital or oral)...

... and reporting greater vocalization prior to partners orgasm, than during foreplay, after their (partner's) orgasm, or during after-play. Additionally, they found that vocalization occurred significantly more prior to and during partner's orgasm than at other times, but also that the woman's orgasm peaks at a time other than their partners.

... and you know what - it's not iron-clad. It's exploratory, it's hypothesis drive. It is falsifiable. For instance, if the finding is sound - that women vocalize in order to prompt male ejaculation, and not to express their own explicit experience of orgasm - than we can test it. First off, I would check with men if vocalizations increases the rate, frequency or quantity of ejaculate. This could be done via survey, but would ideally be done via observation (pending ethics approval. Ha!). Or you could collect a sample of porn videos, with varying vates of vocalization, and show them to men and measure their rates of arousal (both physiological and subjective).

In women, you might be able to demonstrate that vocalization occurs more frequently during periods in which it is unlikely for a woman to become impregnated, and later during periods in which she is most fertile (obviously controlling for desire to become impregnated - you'd have to recruit couples who were trying for a family).

Finally, you might go talk to the pro's - Pornstars. Such an approach might be considered distasteful, or unscientific, but here is a sample who have sex frequently, publicly, and with the aim of creating the most arousing material for both their partner and their viewer. Survey their opinions regarding the tricks of the trade.

These finding may yet be proven wrong, but for what they are - exploratory evolutionary explanations - they currently hold water.

I encourage criticisms, and will endeavour to respond to all - particularly if I need to back up a claim, or defend a statement - but more importantly, I encourage suggestions of hypothesis that support or falsify their claims. Simply exclaiming the Evo Psych is quackery and has nothing to offer legitimate science is intellectually lazy.


*i.e. Was supported by the literature.

** Oh, the general irony.


Brewer, G., & Hendrie, C. (2010). Evidence to Suggest that Copulatory Vocalizations in Women Are Not a Reflexive Consequence of Orgasm Archives of Sexual Behavior DOI: 10.1007/s10508-010-9632-1

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Ok my own 2 cents but could vocalization during sex and particularly orgasm drive male ejaculation and signal women's pleasure because once she orgasms moans etc signals that now he can ejaculate because she is "done".... just a thought.. And I am not sure the paper (will have to look was reading lots about fertility, menstrual cycle things as of late) but doesn't orgasm help in fertilization? So could be good that she finishes first and since its less obvious when we women orgasm (not always sweeping generalization here) it could be good signalling for men and biological better chance of fertilization. I could be totally wrong though.

Very interesting!

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Look, we all love to be the hero/ines in our own stories, but that is sooooooooooooo not an accurate representation of the comments on that other post. I know not of anyone there who was disturbed that women watched porn. However, your post was like somebody studying McDonald's consumption without mentioning factory farming.


Anyway. Moving on to this study. I think it's awesome somebody actually studied this.

Figure 1 has got to be the most boring figure about an interesting topic though :-P

That said, I see why they needed to collect the data. Anyway, the table is more interesting. Truthfully, it's about what I'd expect from my experience, but I have no way of telling if I'm typical or not.

However, this may not be an appropriate sort of topic to just average people's responses though. Maybe vocalizations are reflexive consequence of orgasm for some women, or only with some orgasms, and then there are also more social functions of vocalization. The data suggest there are some non-reflexive occurances, that's it. They don't suggest there aren't reflexive occurances, or that the non-reflexive occurances are for any particular purpose. It's kind of going out on a limb to attempt to correlate it with polyamory in humans. Mind you, I'm pro-polyamory in humans and have no trouble with the notion that we evolved that way. I just don't think these data have any bearing on that.

The ego boost thing and the fact that chimpanzees will do this while mating with high status but not low status chimps intrigues me a lot more, honestly. What is the physiological effect of hearing vocalizations on those that are attracted to women? Does it boost testosterone? Does it enhance the boost of good stuff you get from orgasm like oxytocin (the fact that women vocalize *during* their partner's orgasms the most makes me curious about this)?

Isn't it entirely possible that sex vocalizations, like language generally, is evolutionarily advantageous precisely because it's a flexible behavioral strategy that will enable better sexual success under a variety of cultural conditions (including monogameous and polygamous situations)?

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All of this may have some basis in reality (ego, fake noises, etc.).

I am sure there are some women who vocalize simply because it feels awesome and they are not even thinking about what effect it has on the guy- on his timing or his ego.

Seriously. Not everything is about the guy.

I do agree with Alchemystress that maybe it does also let him know that you came so if he's barely hanging on, he can let it fly. But, hopefully, if he has any willpower at all, we get to have a few extra turns before the end.

I think when you are younger, you worry more about things like how you sound and look. When you get older, you stop being self-conscious and just be yourself.



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@Alchemystress - I have heard/discussed the same, that female orgasm may be an almost mechanical process that does help pull up the seman in order to aid pregnancy. I haven't seen any data on it, but it sounds reasonable. I don't know what people's thoughts are the purpose of the female orgasm, but that's what it's for in men, why could there not be an analogue in women?


@Becca - Ha, you're right. That figure is pretty boring. I threw it in because I think a lot of people think orgasm occurs vaginal (ok, I think a lot of men think that). The author do actually describe that a significant portion of vocalizations are non-reflexive (voluntary and conscious) and are used (as reported by the participants) to end the encounter, for reasons of boredom, pain, etc. I'm not sure why it's going out on a limb to link it to a poly-mate strategy. Vocalizations exist (perhaps) in order to signal sexual availability and attract new mates. This definitely is not so now (if I hear my neighbour going at it, I don't go an knock on the door...), but in our deep history (if the chimps and bonobos are anythin to go by) it's a very real possibility. The best conclusions they can draw from human vocalizations is that it's consistent with the comparitive literature, which counts as one piece of the puzzle. There is more out there - such as the fact in a mans ejaculate there are sperm and killer-sperm, who's job it is to 'kill' foreign competitors - another piece of evidence consistent with the hypothesis the women had sex with different men, frequently, at some point in a deep history.


I think your point about enabling sexual success is an interesting one. If one were being a bit sneaky and copulating with someone you shouldn't be, then it would a great help if the female could speed things along to finish the process, and minimize risks. I wonder if we could uncover that kind of behaviour in the modern world?


@Jade - One of the points the authors made is that some of the vocalizations are reflexive, and some are not. It may be the vocalization is there to express pleasure, or closelness, or arousal, but that doesn't mean you aren't also feeling the same things in order to express your wish for the act to end. And you might be 100% right, with this data being anomolous, or from a sample that just doesn't like their partners ;) More study is required. But to your point 'it's not all about the man'. I agree, and I think that's the premise of the whole paper. Vocalizations were a tool the women had over men, not a tool to the benefit of man (though that's the case, incidentally).



Bob C.

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I don't know about mysogyny but the grammer police are definitely out there with a search warrant.

"and, lo, someone are deceptive during sex."

Seriously?  Dude.   All your research grants are belong to us.

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I don't think that this sample doesn't like their partners at all. 87% of women responded that they vocalized specifically to boost the guy's ego? I find that number a little high. If she's in bed and worried about his ego instead of being in the moment and trying to hit the spot, well, no wonder 68% are not having an orgasm.

It would have been good to see the data split up by age. I would guess that these women are predominantly under 30.


Guest Comment

Oh, somebody stop my eyeballs rollin' around in my head. This part tells you all you need to know:

"Sure, there might be a host of valid social reasons - one might be to boost the ego of the man [92% of the women in study agreed to this statement, and 87% reported vocalizing for this very purpose] (Brewer and Hendrie, 2010), or to deceive the man that they are a competent lover (68% of women reported wanting to stay with a man even though he never helped her climax) (Brewer and Hendrie, 2010)."

92% of the women surveyed said they make noises to encourage the man and tell him he's not a loser.


Let me say that again. Ninety-two percent.

Yes. That's what we do. Men are supervain and worry that if the lady's not moaning, she's not happy, and naturally if she's not happy it's because they suck (which is her fault because it can't be his). So we encourage the fella. Maybe, just maybe, he gets so excited about this that he comes.

As for vocalizations at orgasm -- well, this is a true mystery, and if someone could explain to me and my neighbors how it is that in middle age I've lost the ability to be discreet, I'd love to hear it.

Whose money paid for this, again?



Darin Padula

Guest Comment

Aloha y'all,


Interesting article- thanks for writng up a nice post about it.


In regards to the title, speculating that 'it's bad news for men' and  this section


But from an evolutionary perspective we must be mindful of a few things: First, men do not vocalize in the same manner as women. Second, comparative evidence in chimps suggests that vocalizations arefor attracting more males to a sexual encounter (in order to have more sex), which is further supported by the fact that when chimps are engaging in down-strata copulation (that is, if the women is having sex with someone she 'shouldn't' be having sex with) she still makes chimpanzee sex-faces, but fails to make the vocalizations.


I was wondering why you would cite papers from studies on chimpanzees, but not from bonobos?  If one were to instead use some of the ideas put forth in Chritopher Ryans' and DOIJ  FJ'  "Sex at Dawn", it would flip those statements on their head.  In fact, louder copulatory voalizations would be a good thing for all involved.

1. More noises of encouragment for the active participant(s)

2. Louder calls to bring more participants

3. Greater involvement of the tribal/living unit results in greater shared-partite paternity, meaning that there are more 'fathers' to help raise and provide resources to the youngster, should one be born.

Women are not private property- I don't feel bad if another male or female has access to that person.




Bryan Watkins

Guest Comment

Gah, I forgot to fill in the second author info

Cacilda Jethá, M.D.


You can


Mea culpa...


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Yeah, I agree, if I didn't mention Bonobos it was an oversight. Just as relevant is Chimps, in many ways. Our lab group spent a week or two discussing Sex at Dawn. I never got around to it, but I heard a mixed bag of reviews... it's on to do list.

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Oops, further to that point - I specifically mentioned Chimps because there are a lot more 'rules' about sex in groups of Chimps than there are in Bonobos. Perhaps you can correct me, but there's less forbidden sex in Bonobos than Chimps, thus, Chimps need to protect themselves (no vocalizations) during taboo sex, whereas Bonobos do not?

Darin Padula
World Domination, Inc.
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Right on.


I often think of what Frans de Waal has said, to paraphrase- what if researchers had found the bonobo first?  All our theories on resource dominance, group dynamics, and the hierarchy model of chimpanzees wouldn't be our go-to for human comparisons, but bonobos instead.


Now, I can certainly accede that research is still on-going into that, but Ryan & Jetha put together a very compelling explanatory hypothesis.  Reading your post title really made me think of an alternative view, based on the more ethological explanation for human sexuality- our polyamorous ancestors didn't function as successful groups because of intra-specific squabbling and resource domination, like chimps, but succeeded in a group success mentality where support was key.  Thank you for mentioning polyamory up above- I should have acknowledged that in my earlier comments :)


Re: bonobo cryptic signals, secondary pairings, etc and the need for protection... the matriarchy of bonobo groups and their use of sexual transactions to relieve stress makes it a different calculation, don't you think?  You don't have to worry about getting your scrotum ripped open (I've seen it happen, back when I did some work at the Honolulu Zoo chimp program) because you put too much stress on the rest of the group.  Those 'illicit' pairings still occur, to some level, but the repercussions are not the same.  That is, I believe that they do have 'silent' pairings off, but hierarchy differences are resolved so differently.....

Also, the way you postulate it, which is probably accurate, is that chimps are quiet so they can get away with more illicit pairings.  So, why are bonobos and humans not quiet?  Because the concept of illicit pairings is being superimposed on those ethograms compared to the majority of other animals, like chimps, maybe?   I'll be the first to admit that if bonobos weren't around, all the evidence would point to humans being culturally similar to chimps, but since it seems we are even more closely related to bonobos... it really calls for a reinterpretation of what is 'naturally' human, based on a few hundred thousand years of evolution, vs. what societal, post-agrarian constructs of our culture have imposed on us.


Down with the man!  Let's get out there and tear shit up! :)

(old ideologies, that is- gotta stop thinking like a destructive chimp....)


Thank you for the considerate reply, and sorry for the ramble- I have a little problem with typing concisely.

West Chester University
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Ah, it's ad hominem ( ) which you were trying to use.

Hominim is invalid: the noun is homo, hominis.

Everything else seems fine.

Darin Padula
World Domination, Inc.
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ooooh, finally found Christopher Ryans very nice writeup on copulatory noise.  Hope y'all enjoy.

Miley McCormick

Guest Comment
I looked this up as I wondered why I moaned during making love.
I personally have no control over my moaning it just seems to happen when I make love or even when my boyfriend massages me as certain areas like my lower back are extremely sensative.. a lot of girls say they fake it but I never have to.. I often.have to put my face into a pillow to muffle the sounds so I don't disturb the neighbors above me..

So I'm still clueless haha
Sydney Talbot

Guest Comment
I find this really insightful! I'm a young, healthy female who makes no noises whatsoever.... Not even during masterbating. At first I didn't think it was normal because I would truly enjoy the feeling and even get an orgasm, but no sort of sound came out. Hehe I'm not even sure if I make "chimpanzee sex faces" or anything like that, but I twitch and get stiff with pleasure. I'm guessing that I'm doing it right and my partners doing it right, so I don't have to moan in order to control ejaculation time, to stop, or to manipulate him to move a certain way or do something else. This theory is truly outstanding. Even the surveys helped understand where they were going with this.
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